Sleeping Bag

My path isn’t clear.

Has it ever been?

Ordinariness is a sin, a crime, said the Indian prince who died alone.

I think about notions of success. What is it? What constitutes a success? The making of a lot of money, a change in circumstances? Public recognition? Or a job well done? I thought it would come in a rush. I’d hold my breath waiting for it. Just around the corner, surely. Soon. But it didn’t come, at least not in the way I expected. The stuff I was expecting was like candy floss. A nothing, a sticky, fluffy nothing. And a denial of what is. What is now. I look out of the window and there is the moon, a yellow shape against the black. It’s not round, not oval, a misshapen pizza base. It stills me. As does the brief power cut we had during breakfast. Nothing is real. No thing is real. It is all illusion. Even the moon, sent to steady us with its seeming constancy. And yet, for all this, it is hard to let go of the expectations. My spirits sink just before I come in here. I want to do anything but sit here and face it. This letting fall of fantasy, of wanting to be saved, to be lifted out of mundanity. And yet, what is mundane. What is ordinary? We require so much distraction. Anything to avoid looking at ourselves. And yet when we do it doesn’t have to be harsh. It can be kind. Compassionate, even. Try it.

I attempt to write without thinking about it too much. To let it come out. To blurt. There is freedom in revolutionary thought. A momentary frisson of excitement before the idea of having to put it into action drags the feet. You don’t have to do anything, he says. I fight against it. Not wanting the prison door to be opened. But it is. It is. And I want to walk out. I do. Honest. I see them in their semi-circular grouping. All those whose judgement I fear. All the while knowing it is imagined. Most are too wrapped up on their own lives to give mine a moment’s thought. And besides, they would celebrate the freedom of it. Conceptually, at least. It’s like Eleanor Oliphant and the imagined weekly telephone call from her mother long dead. Such vitriol. It’s not real. I am free to do what I choose. Let it be. I want to concentrate on this small aspect of practice. To delve into the ordinary. So be it. Let it be. No one cares. This is a chance to begin at the beginning. All those colouring books. Where was I in those?

No one about this morning. A few cars crawling through the streets. The University security van. No one walking. A body in a sleeping bag perched precariously on a bench in the shelter by the Pier. And a man, his face lit up by his mobile phone, as he read, sitting on the adjacent bench with his bike leaning against the frame. In the shelter opposite The Marine Hotel my eye was caught by a pair of boots. Was there someone sleeping there too? The shins were brought up close to the body. I couldn’t tell if it was a man or woman. The clubs were shut this morning. The calm before the storm of New Year’s Eve. Eerie. Lip Lickin’ Chicken was open. And the lights across Terrace Road were lit.

She wrote that it was the hardest thing we ever had to do. It wasn’t. It wasn’t for me. I was glad to do it. To set her free. She’d gone anyway. Long gone. I am uncomfortable being spoken about like that. She means well. She thinks she gets it right but she doesn’t. I feel for her. I do. An uncomfortable love at times. She is so like her. The laugh, the one that reveals discomfort. That is spot on. I hope she gets what she wants. I will do what I can to ease her burden.

I see and know my blessings. But there is so much I cannot know. Let that be. Let that rest. To just not know.



Just a scattering of youngsters this morning. They weren’t students, I could tell. Their faces were small, naïve, made blank by alcohol. A scattering, a smattering outside The Academy and a clustering around the town clock. One, a girl, in a cream sequined mini skirt and maroon Dc Marten boots and another in a halter neck top and trousers and white platform shoes. I watched her cross the walk street from The Angel to a doorway under some scaffolding. A boy followed her. She looked triumphant, proud, until moments later he left to join his mates huddled by the pub’s entrance. She remained where she stood and stared, boring into his back. A line of taxi cabs, their engines idling, waited outside New Look. Down by the harbour a car parked, its headlights shining hard against the railings opposite. The tide was high, waves crashing onto the road, spilling salt water everywhere. A lad got out of the passenger seat and ran across to the railings, leaning over them to look at the water. He stood as if counting. Then it came. A huge wall of water, up and up then down breaking its fall unrelentingly upon his back. He crouched and curled inside himself taking the lashing of wet for some seconds before scuttling off back to the car. Was it a dare? He would’ve of been drenched. But even so I understood it. It is magnificent. Such power. A potent force. Just to be part of it, baptised by it. I understand.

It was a throwaway remark delivered as I laid our shopping on the conveyor belt. Did you have a good Christmas? I don’t celebrate Christmas, she replied, stone-faced. Should I of left it at that? Why not? Are you Jewish? I asked rather apologetically. Her face remained dead-pan, hard to do when your hair is a home-dyed tinge of green and there are fat, metallic braces across your teeth. No, we just adhere closely to the Bible. I try to find my bearings. Are you a Jehovah’s Witness? No, I think they celebrate Christmas. I tried a few more, Quaker, Mormon, Non-Conformist? She was having none of it. Cagey. Do you go to church? I continued. No, she replied, it’s just me and my family. She thanked me at the end for showing an interest. Was she in truth rather irritated? Should I have let it go? Most people aren’t interested, she said. And I was, am. In the car he tells me of an occasion a week or so back when he been in there and looked for an open till. This same girl had been available. Oh, you don’t want her, one of the staff had said to him, she’s hopeless.

It is only difference. That’s all.

It’s about the ordinary. Embracing the ordinary. Seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary. It seems that if I could let go of my need for public approval or recognition I, and my work, would be much happier. I shall do it for myself. All of it. The writing, the making, the performing. I am the only audience, the only recipient. It is enough, isn’t it?

I feel a bit crook today. Don’t go for a walk, he said, stay at home with me. But I can’t. I must keep going. First a booking then it was cancelled. Did I wake you? she asked. That’s OK, I replied.

See the detail, the beauty. Change your perspective. Breathe. Let the work be what it needs to be. It is enough. You do not have to be good.

But you are. You are.



Some words immediately evoke memories. Unbidden they come in. Annexe. It was a crossword clue. The annexation of a country, I think. I remember it as a word that I didn’t know painted on a sign. A sign on a door. The annexe. The ante-room, the adjoined room. It was at my boarding school. So many unfamiliar words. Words that shouted at me, accused and unsettled. Words of command, direction painted on signs and hung on walls and doors. The annexe was a cold space, an extension to the music corridor, I think, and the tuck shop. The wind blew through it, or am I being fanciful? They made us wear long blue cloaks. I was grateful for them. Where did all those clothes go? She showed me a photo of a little black velvet jacket she’d had when she was four. Her mother had kept all her clothes from all those years ago. Is that a sign of love? Another word was stiletto. No stilettos to be worn in this building, read the sign. I went to boarding school in the early 70s. Were girls still wearing stilettos then? And then I discovered it was also the word for a knife. I can recall learning to read in primary school, the mystery of the shapes before me. My finger tracing them, wanting to understand. Do I understand much more fifty years on? No, sometimes I think I understand less, much less.

It was a good day yesterday. A warm and sunny day. She was all smiles, her head characteristically leaning slightly to one side. A joy. A joy to be with them both. A warm friendship, much much good will. The city was busy. All that shopping. I wanted to avoid the crowd, and took him down the back streets. That’s where they filmed the last scene in Persuasion. We see a woman holding a sign aloft announcing a free Jane Austen tour. She attaches herself to the end of the crocodile. We call to her, we’re going this way. But they weren’t saying anything, she said. We talk of death, of burials, of families, of shared acquaintances. The food was good. The tastes zinged on my tongue. And so much love for them and for him. A long drive, winding. I see it in my sleep, the road. The ever winding road.

The town is quiet these mornings, just a few stray youngsters. Two girls, dressed up to the nines trying to get their key in the front door of The Cardigan Bay guest house. Exposed thighs and high heels. One had on a gold lame jacket. She swayed as her friend fiddled the key in the lock. Should I go and help? Then later, walking towards the station I hear laughter. Three girls are sitting on the ground by the empty taxi rank. Legs splay. Two wearing white stilettos. Heels almost five inches long. They hush each other as I near. A taxi pulls up.

I’ve caught a cold. A cold in my chest. He says its my insistence on keeping a window open at night. I can’t not. I love the air coming into my room. The contrast of cold and warmth. But when I awake it is austere. I shiver. I am weepy too. For silly reasons. Too much in my head. We talked well. Things felt arranged, safe, ordered. Only to unravel today. Life is a messy business. He said they’d had a leak in their basement. I was surprised. Other people’s lives always seem so perfect.



Tete a tete

They were a little extravagance. My little extravagance, which continued into the morning when I bought lingerie. Two pieces. All lace. In the sale, naturally. An indulgence, to which I confessed when he woke. He is fine about it. Always. I am the one who is discombobulated. Too many purchases make me wobbly. I’m my father’s daughter. A little close. Nervy about excess. I like the simple. I am a Puritan at heart. And yet I love beautiful underwear. What did she say about the Rector? Did she use the word puritan? He didn’t, doesn’t like too much frippery, too much pomp. Did she accuse him of doing away with the Abbey’s Christmas tree? Edward. His name is Edward I remember. And I saw him once in Waitrose without his dog collar and sporting a rugby shirt. What was his title? Was it something like promontory? No, I’ve just checked its Revd. Prebendary. Though that doesn’t look right either. And he has retired this year. It won’t be the same. A gentle man, a shy man, I think. I remember going to the Vicarage for an introductory tea. He looked so uncomfortable. They stopped doing them soon after. A blessed relief, I suspect. Back to my extravagance. Two little pots of tete a tete daffodils. One for my room, one for his. Doris and Daphne. Dor and Daffers. It makes him laugh, the perpetual naming of things. Of inanimate objects. It’s part of our closeness, our precious intimacy. A shared silliness, childishness. I can be that with him and I treasure it. Anything to puncture the earnestness. Anyway, they are lovely. Our own wee harbingers of Spring. Soon to sprout.

Did you know that the Wise Men, the Magi were originally astrologers? According to Ian Hislop that was the case until the Church men started to meddle and astrology was debunked, and made into a non-science. And then they were Kings until Cromwell stuck his oar in and made them Wise Men. As a child you take it as truth. All of it. I sang We Three Kings of Orient Are as I walked this morning.

I was better yesterday. The negative voice wasn’t so strong. It’s trying to take root this morning. It is a day-to-day thing at the moment. It’s because I’m alone with it without interruption, I suppose. I think about what I want, what I need. I think about the haves and the have nots. I’m in the first category undoubtedly, though to a lesser degree than many. And yet, I see my blessings. I have peace, I have autonomy. I am dearly loved. Treasured, in fact. I can please myself. I have enough to eat, I am warm, safe and held. All of which gives me time to fret about the details. How I get myself across? Am I good enough? Am I kind enough? Am I doing enough? Am I working hard enough? Am I worthwhile? OK. Now pull back. What is enough? Who is making the judgements? I think about his mother. No great claims for a life. No accolades. A loving woman, funny, well-liked. A raiser of a family, a wife and carer. She made shift. She did what was expected. WI, playing bowls, bridge. She was present in her life. And later, she waited with grace and humour for her demise. Was her life any less than mine? With my egotistic search for recognition, for acknowledgement that I am somehow special. What constitutes special? Beauty, talent, skill, power? It all begins inside. This deep well of knowingness. And yet, not knowing. For we cannot know anything. The days fold out one after another and sometimes I am so weary. And yet I don’t have to go down a pit, work in a factory, plough a field. I am warm, I am safe. The war is an internal one. An illusion, ultimately and at odds with what I really want. She writes about silence. About praying for 3 hours a day, walking, reading, writing and sewing. Is that enough? Is that a good enough life? I want my peace. I want to know my peace. I want to open to my peace. For then all else will make sense. All else will fall into place. Amen to that.


Comfort and Light

I’d never thought about it like that. That is what it is. It was a throw away phrase that he let slip during his radio programme about an alternative Christmas soundtrack. He used to be a pop singer. I think he was in Bronski Beat. That group with the marvellous Jimmy Somerville. Anyway he is now a vicar, the Reverend Richard Coles. We’re all just looking for some comfort and light at this time of year, he said. Some comfort and light. That’s it. That’s why I long to return to bed or to stay longer at the table, hugging my hot water bottle surrounded by lights from the little Christmas tree and the line of lights beneath the window. And food too. I taste it more. I need it more.

The darkness is relentless, particularly now that Christmas is done. No more advent candles, no more expectations. Town is so quiet. I like it but it is also eerie. Everything is shut. No 24 hour garage, no Spar. And the people I do see make me anxious. Are they up to no good? There was a small white car that parked just ahead of me along the Prom. A young girl skipped to meet it, leaning in through the driver’s window. A young man stretched back in his seat. A minute later it drove off. Then nothing till a police car along Mill Street. Everything is out of sync. All routine lost. We hover in this waiting room. It disconcerts me. I hold this life, this illusion of normality, so tightly.

We did very little. We got up at the usual time and had breakfast. I opened my one present. A delightful little jug, the essence of simplicity, from my sister. Then he went back to bed and I wrote. Then it was off to church followed by a walk by the sea, then home. I worked and he slept. Yoga, then lunch followed by a nap than supper. Crosswords, a brief watch of North and South then bed. He seemed pleased with his supper. The best Christmas dinner I’ve had, he said. No, I said, surely not. Yes, he said. It was nothing, some cold pork, roast potatoes and vegetables. He is content. I can see it. I do my best. We both do. And how I love this gentleness. This ebb and flow. It is enough to manage the inner turmoil. That sucks up all my strength. But I am growing in understanding. Every now and again a flicker of something like wisdom. Perhaps, the voice said to me this morning, perhaps it is not about success or indeed failure but just experience. How about that? Well it’s certainly revolutionary. Perhaps it is just about the moment to moment experience of being alive. The taste of it, the feel of it. How about that? Think about that. I try to pay attention to the details. To notice the inner judgement but also the pleasure of loving, of feeling of seeing. The wind in my face, sharp and bitter this morning. The way it buffets me, pushing at my legs. The tern drinking from the puddle then flying off at my approach. The robin landing onto the post ahead of me. And maybe, the voice continued, there are no answers, no neat plan just a sense of being here, now, breathing.


Green Car

I could’ve stayed in bed, it is Christmas day after all. But I’m not much good at stepping out of my routine. It holds me. It holds me tight. And I wanted to be out on this day, out in the silent anticipation of what is to come. So much is expected of it. And all it becomes is a heavy, somnolent sort of day. An inner day. An overly cosy, claustrophobic day. I’m not good at it. That kind of torpor. I like to move. I miss what it could be. For it never was that. As a family we didn’t do well in enclosed spaces. Emotions ran high. And edges became frayed. And yet I longed for the perfection of those images. Even amongst other peoples families it is the same. I pick up all that stuff up, even if it has nothing to do with me. I want to observe yet be warmed by it. To dip my toe in and then withdraw. I feel too much. And my light flickers.

I could be happy. Right now. It is in my gift, in all of our gifts. It is a matter of choice. I know this.

The forecast was wrong. It rained and my coat got drenched. It made me irritable. And then I let it go. Tried instead to concentrate on the sensations of it. To step outside of my self-pity, my tetchiness about life not being how I’d like it to be. The rain wasn’t lashing after all, it was a misty, layering sort of wetness that cooled and washed my face. That was nice. And the wind too. It was fresh, enlivening, pushing at me, jostling. There was nobody about except for a small green car that sped past me along Llanbadarn Road and a man whom I saw walking ahead of me along the Prom.

I wondered about the etiquette. Should I wish him Happy Christmas? I prepared myself to turn and greet him as I walked past him (he’d slowed down by now) but saw that he had earphones in. So I left it and walked on by feeling rather bereft. He looked closed in, too closed in to welcome an interruption. I thought of all the times I’d forced a greeting out of foreigners, in Spain, Norway, France and Denmark. It is for myself. I want to be acknowledged, to be shown that I exist, can, even for a short time, belong. I am more self-conscious in my own country. Funny that.

One of our neighbours has strewn his tree with lights. It looked beautiful in the dark. What a fillip. As with the electrician’s wife, though hers hang from the eaves. Blue light. Blue-white light shimmering. They shunkle, said the girl in The Red Shoes. It must mean shine.

Her loneliness is palpable, made all the more so by her denial of it. Her brittle carapace blocking it in. She cannot cry, I think. And they are so unkind.

Three classes of women sewing. Mrs Hale, the fallen petit bourgeois (she ‘married for love’), working a decorative tapestry on an embroidery hoop, Fanny Thornton, new money, tugging away at her needle as she prettifies some linen and Bessie Higgins, mill worker, mending. Mrs Gaskell’s North and South. Sewing is a necessity, a distraction, a means of money, an acceptable accomplishment. The active women, Mrs Thornton and Margaret Hale aren’t shown doing it. They are too busy being out, out in the world.

I think about why I do it. There is not one reason. I hide behind it. I do it to keep busy, keep going. I do it because at the moment I cannot do much else. I am lost and it grounds me.

I can be happy now, in this moment. All is well. There is nothing I need. I can be happy now. My mind tries to scupper me. To upend and capsize me with its pursuit of success. What is that exactly? I am trying to understand, to make for myself a rich life. And yet I am dogged by this lowness. This fear of fraudulence, of being found wanting. By whom exactly? Why not just let it be? Let the so-called failure, mediocrity be. Live it. Be it. Let go of the fear of it. Don’t suppress it. Fall if you must. It is called living. Live it. Be happy. Not in the empty smiley face sort of happy but the deeply peaceful still sort of happy. Be it now. Moment by moment. And remember.


Just around the corner

They’re saying that Spring is just around the corner, he said at breakfast this morning, reading from The Times. Apparently it’s early this year, he continued, four months early. They always say that, I replied. No, he said, it’s here. It’s something to do with hazel catkins being spotted in October when they are meant to come in March. It is uncommonly warm. And as a consequence it doesn’t feel much like Christmas. I’m not complaining, even when I go out with too many clothes on, I love this mildness. The cold bites at my bones.

I felt low yesterday. I haven’t cried like that for a long time. It was good to get it out but a feeling something like shame always follows such an outpouring. Where does that come from? A house where there was only room for one person’s emotion, perhaps? Not her fault. She hadn’t been listened to, paid heed too enough. Cancelled out for too long. She thought that we would make up the deficit. Impossible. I’m sorry. I was so high a couple of days before. So in love with belonging, being part of something warm. And then this great falling. So gloomy. I got everything done. I did what I wanted myself to do, and then I just wanted to sleep, to disappear into the nothingness. He is kind. I snap and snarl when he tries to help. My skin is sharp, prickly with prickles. I want to empty myself out, to clean myself of all residue of rancour. To be white through and through. And at peace. That is it. Above all else. All I want for Christmas is that. And yet, I know I have it already. We all do. If only we could see and value it.

Town was quiet this morning as a walked. A man stood on a corner along Llanbadarn Road. I couldn’t make out what he was doing. Was he peeing? He was definitely swaying, and then he turned full circle and began walking the other way. His movements were exaggerated, his steps too big. He was drunk, clearly. He walked towards me, and I saw his eyes were half closed. Is it nice to be so inebriated? Outside the Pier Pressure nightclub, two men and a woman were rowing. As least, one of the men was trying to drag the woman out of the way. She had scarlet coloured hair and tight army fatigue trousers. What did he say? she was shouting at one of the men. The one who’d tried to drag her away started kicking at a bin. I swear to God, he was shouting. The other man, his face hard against hers said: He said Dennis was a cunt.

Stopping for a couple of minutes at the top of the little hill overlooking Cae Melin and down onto Llanbadarn Road, I listened to a blue tit. For such a tiny bird, its song is so resonant. A kind of spit, spit sound. Sharp, almost rasping, it echoes through the night to be met with the softer call of a blackbird.

Our neighbour was at his window smoking both when I left and when I returned an hour or so earlier. Initially he seemed reluctant to talk. I understand that. But knowing, or at least sensing, this makes me awkward and I come out with inane questions. The second time he was a little more forthcoming, telling me how he’d been staring at one of the security lamps. It’s broken, I said, it keeps going on and off. No, I don’t think so, he said, there’s a kind of strange pattern. I’ve been timing it. He strikes me as content with his lot. An inscrutable man, I think.

A gentle day day today. Carols and lights. It is enough.


From the Bush

Oh, they’re probably from the bush, he said after I’d told him at breakfast about the Welsh-speaking kids I’d seen play-fighting in the Castle grounds earlier that morning. It was still in the gloom of darkness. A disparate mass of bodies, thin and wiry hanging around the public toilets. Then two started pushing and shoving each other. They sprawled across my path. Keeping to the side, I did my best to avoid them. It unsettled me. You’d gone for peace, he said. It’s not right. But they’re just kids having a good time. Though so young. They spilled out of the Why Not? and The Angel. The pavement was strewn with broken plastic forks, food cartons and cigarette ends. Two police cars were parked up by the clock. A chaos.

I am low. I try my best to defeat it. Cajoling, talking myself through it but it has set in. What is it? What brings it on? A sense of self. A low sense of self. I’ve spent the morning cleaning – floors, surfaces, clothes. I’ve ironed and changed the sheets. I’ve hung the Christmas decorations. I’ve kept busy. So come on lets unravel this. When did it begin. Oh, this morning out walking, as it always does. I’d decided to listen to my iPad as a means of distracting myself. But then a voice comes in telling me that I’m not appreciating the sounds of nature when I do that. I’m abstracting, absenting myself from creation. And yet, there is some joy to be had when a song that I love comes on shuffle. So what next? Then it was thoughts about my memoir. My mind had replayed my failure to secure funding and began to revisit all my uncertainty about my worth as a writer. And whether the book has any merit. Does everyone feel this way? Does every artist, writer, musician, actor feel this low about themselves. It has always been so. Through every creative process. I remember it from childhood. That sense of inner ugliness. The darkness of knowing my lack of skill, understanding and of being found wanting, found fraudulent. Where has it come from? What is it about?

Perhaps the questioning is counterproductive. Perhaps I should not try so hard to understand but defeat it by other therapies. I just don’t know. It is an uncomfortable place. It’s the ugliness. And the feeling of worthlessness. And I’d been feeling so high. It was so good to be amongst them. My loves. To belong. I felt such warm belonging. They wanted me there. I just don’t know what it is, where it has come from. Is it their deaths? Is it the menopause? Or is it just something that is in me. A deep, deep gloominess. I want the end. I want my rest. My release. Is it wrong to ask for it? When life, my life is so rich. I know this, I know the seams of potential joy but I cannot access them. I am held in, trapped.

Two days and then it will be over. We shall be quiet. Nothing special. No big hullabaloo. The lights look pretty. Tiny little things. So precious. Will that do? Will that pleasure do? No, for it isn’t about being distracted by pleasurable things. It’s a deeper need than that. A falling. A falling into peace where I am beyond what I do, what I create. Can it be soon? Eh?


A looker

She’s a looker, she said to him as she handed over his coffee, but a real one for the men. They give and they take away. Is it just a Welsh thing? Or a generic female thing? I do like her though, for all her gentle sniping. I’ve warmed to her. Oh, the other one, I forgot to explain. The looker. Yes, she’s a gym coach and a teacher of Welsh. She knew me first and then he’d see her in a coffee shop we used to go to. He’d slag her off at first for speaking Welsh to non-speakers. Pushing it on others, he’d say. I don’t think she was or is. She just likes to speak her mother tongue. I watched her talking to him. She is certainly different with him than she is with me. Her face lights up. She sparkles. Is it conscious? I don’t know. He likes her now, he too has warmed. She is a looker. She has lovely eyes. But there is a slowness in her response. Odd. She used to be a primary school teacher, perhaps that is it. I don’t know. I heard him speak some Welsh to her and her surprise that he could. I’ll have to just speak Welsh to you in future, she said. He laughed. Do I mind the flirting? If indeed it is. No. I used to. I was scared, uncertain of my place in his life. He flirted to keep me at bay. Not now. Not now. Back to the other one. I do so like her. I gave her a hug for Christmas. She laughs with her eyes. Kind. She’s been nominated for an award at work. She is modest about it. Her colleague, also a sniper, it seems, said, she told us, that everyone is put forward for awards. Was she? we ask. No, she says.

Be gracious. Be kind. Friends reply to my emails welcoming me, inviting me to stay. I am touched. We will go. Let us go. Let us be open to their kindness. To receive. For what we are about to receive. My sister is the same as me. Cutting off all chance of joy before it can happen. Cancelling plans, rearranging, staying away. I cannot blame her, I have done the same, often. But is OK. It is OK to be you, he says, over and over again.

A mild morning. I wore too many clothes. It was nice not to be frozen. It takes up so much energy. I feel my fortunateness, my blessings. Tomorrow we go to see family. Just a brief visit. Not for long. I plan and plan. In overdrive. Wasn’t there a group called that? he asked coming out of the shower. Yes, Bachman Turner Overdrive. Smashy and Nicey used to play them, do you remember? We laugh. I like the silliness.

I get myself so wound up, so tight. My arms and my back become rigid, immobile. And yet, there is this underlying layer of joy. I heard a blackbird, saw a new lit Christmas tree, felt the gentle wind in my face. I strode forth, harnessing the power in my thighs. He is a source of constant pleasure to me. We talked about watching Scrooge on Christmas Day. The one with Alistair Sim. A black and white movie. Perfect. Just what we were looking for. A bit of laziness, a bit of imploding. Just the two of us. No fuss. No to do. The last advent candle on Sunday. Then it is here.



I remember it looked marvellous in the television advert. The family playing it looked so happy. Two kids, a mother and a father, all playing it together. And the thing itself shone with perfect newness. I wanted one so much. I wanted that happiness, that familial accord. And there it was under the tree. I could tell by rattling it that it was what I’d asked for. Under the wrapping the box looked smaller than the one in the advertisement. But I knew that I wouldn’t be disappointed. I had one. They had bought one for me. All would be well. All that promise would be mine. Now and always. Opening it on that Christmas Eve I was filled with joy. Here it was. Yes, small and a little shoddier than it had looked on the small screen but nevertheless it was just like the picture.

But no one would play it with me. Not now, they’d said. Maybe later. And I couldn’t play it on my own, what would be the point. Mum and Dad never played it with me, not once. My sisters did, but only a few times. What happened to it? I think I kept it in the box most of the time. In my room. That first frisson of pleasure never to be repeated.

There were few people about this morning. Most of the students have migrated homeward. Their cars have gone from the Prom and from behind Alexandra Hall. I heard some girls laughing along Pier Street, but that was all. Lip Lickin’ Chicken was open and a few bodies hung around outside The Angel. Stragglers.

I called her. She took a little while to answer. A slightly querulous voice. Who’d be calling now? At this time. But she warmed up. I had to introduce myself. I remember. I remember now. We talked of Dad and her late husband and where she would spend Christmas. I made her laugh. She’s eating too many mince pies. Can I tell her I care? That we both do. That I cleave towards her softness, her lovingness. She talked of her son in Australia. He has depression. He called last week. It was his birthday. She wants to go and see him but is uncertain if she’d be welcome. I sent him money. I wanted to send them presents, something to open but I don’t know their sizes, what they like anymore. So much grief. We’ll visit, take you out to lunch. That would be nice. So nice. So nice.